Jamie Bernstein explains the most likely explanation for Epstein’s suicide: neglect, terrible conditions, and America’s prison system.
The truth is that the Metropolitan Correction Center where Epstein was being held, like other federal jails, has suffered from decades of budget shortfalls and understaffing. The night that Epstein died, the two corrections officers that were on staff were both working overtime hours, and for one of the officers, it was his fifth night in a row working overtime. In terms of conditions at the jail, Slate writes that “in the Special Housing Unit where Epstein was held, the fluorescent lights are kept on 23 or 24 hours a day, prisoners are prohibited from calling out to each other, and the cell windows are frosted to prevent any glimpse of the outside world,” conditions that can often lead to mental illness and suicidal tendencies. They also point out that even though mental illness and suicide is extremely common in jails, at MCC there was only one psychiatrist on staff for both MCC and another local jail, a population of 2000 prisoners.
In a way, I think I want to believe Epstein was murdered because it’s a tidy end to the story of Epstein. It’s easy to believe that Epstein, by dealing with experts at crimes and coverups, ended up as the victim of one of those crimes and coverups. I want to believe it was murder, but the truth is much scarier.
The truth is that the MCC already had a reputation as an extremely dangerous place that was often mismanaged, creating situations that put their inmates at risk. Slate writes this about the MCC
We know that MCC, the federal prison in Manhattan that also recently housed Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was deemed “worse than Guantanamo” by someone who spent time in both facilities. We know that cells are infested with bugs and rats so big they’re “more like roommates” and that the temperature swings from unbearable heat to frigid cold. We know that inmates have not received adequate medical care, that a corrections officers was found guilty of raping an inmate, and that officials allegedly tried to cover up the fatal beating of another prisoner.
It seems likely that Epstein was taken off suicide watch early because suicide watch is expensive and they need to conserve their budget. It seems likely that the inmate who was staying with Epstein was transferred out because he needed to be moved and the jail didn’t have the resources or manpower to quickly find a replacement cellmate. It seems likely that the corrections officers who were working the night of Epstein’s death were not checking on him every 30 minutes because they were overworked and tired and likely had many other inmates to check-in on every 30 minutes, along with a lot of other work to do, so doing those bi-hourly checks just fell by the wayside.
We don’t need a vast conspiracy among powerful people to explain why Epstein died. We already have the information we need to know what happened, but we don’t want to face it because it means we might have to do something about it. Epstein likely died due to suicide in a jail that didn’t have the budget or wherewithal to be able to fully protect him and provide him with mental health resources when he showed suicidal tendencies. He died because federal jails in the US are terrifying hell-holes with conditions that exacerbate mental illness then do not provide inmates the medical care they need to manage their conditions. It’s not a conspiracy so much as a total lack of regard from politicians and the taxpaying public who vote for them.
If you want a conspiracy theory, you can have one…but it should revolve around the right-wing demonization of drugs and mental illness, the proliferation of for-profit prisons, and the awful people who run prisons as punitive pits for the unwanted. I’ll believe in that before I believe in shadowy assassins staging murders as suicides in prisons.
Next question: why aren’t we doing something about our national hell-holes? A billionaire was driven to suicide in one, shouldn’t that be enough to motivate Republicans to change policies? I know they’re only about self-interest, but the odds are improving that they’ll eventually end up in one, you know. Trump himself could end up in the Metropolitan Correction Center, and I don’t believe his pampered ass would last long “with bugs and rats so big they’re ‘more like roommates'”, although his Cabinet might be preparing him for that situation.